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Archive for the ‘Governor’s Office’ Category

It’s been a busy last couple of weeks, to say the least:

  • Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards was forced into a runoff with millionaire businessman Eddie Rispone who had never run for office before and who offered no specific solutions to Louisiana’s problems other than to say he was going to “fix it,” a-la the late Ross Perot and that he would lower taxes a-la Bobby Jindal.
  • In the all-important races for the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, the big money was the big winner. Seven candidates backed by LABI and its PAC money won seven seats on the board, demonstrating in no uncertain terms that it’s not who has the best ideas and who is the best-qualified, but who has the money that determines who gets elected in Louisiana. Voters continue to listen to the sound bites and to read the brochures that clutter our mailboxes instead of educating themselves on the issues. Perhaps the completion of an intensive civics course, complete with a required essay on all the candidates should be a criteria for voting.
  • Two Soviet-born emigres managed to penetrate the White House’s inner circle by cozying up to Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump by pouring $350,000 into federal and state Republican campaigns and contacted Ukrainian officials at the behest of Giuliani in his efforts to dig up information on Democrats. No word if any of that $350,000 went into the Rispone campaign.
  • Trump threw erstwhile allies Kurds under the bus by pulling out American forces, using has his excuse the somewhat dubious claim he wanted the U.S. out of the mess in the Mideast even as he was committing more troops to Saudi Arabia to aid that country in its fight against Iran.
  • LSU won a classic heavyweight match-up with Florida and moved into the number two spot in the national rankings.
  • The Hard Rock Café Hotel in New Orleans that was under construction in the French Quarter collapsed, leaving at least two dead and raising questions about construction inspections similar to those raised in a similar incident in Baton Rouge more than 40 years ago. That’s when a building undergoing construction on Airline Highway collapsed, killing three workers and injuring three others. The building had recently undergone its “final inspection” which pronounced it “ready for occupancy.”
  • In a textbook SLAPP (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) lawsuit, the Ascension Parish Council responded to a public records request from former employee Teleta Wesley by filing a lawsuit against her. The same course was taken by the 4th Judicial District Court (Ouachita and Morehouse parishes) judges against The Ouachita Citizen newspaper and by the Welsh Town Council against town council member Jacob Colby Perry. Similar action was also threatened but never taken by Lake Charles attorney Russell Stutes, Jr. in response to public records requests submitted by Billy Broussard who was never paid by Calcasieu Parish to remove debris from Hurricane Rita in 2005. Such lawsuits are filed for the sole purpose of shutting up critics who generally don’t have the resources to fight such nuisance lawsuits.

Several surveys came out recently that revealed some interesting facts.

  • Louisiana, with a poverty rate of 18.6 percent in 2018 (down from 19.7 percent the year before), improved somewhat to the fifth-poorest state in the nation. The state came in ahead of (in order) New Mexico, Arkansas, Mississippi and West Virginia.
  • Monroe, meanwhile, ranked as the 28th poorest metropolitan area in the U.S. with a median household income of $44,353 and a poverty rate of 20.7 percent and with 12.2 percent of households with incomes under $10,000 (both among the 10 highest rates). Not to be outdone, the Shreveport-Bossier City metro area was 14th-poorest with a median household income of $41,969 and a poverty rate of 20.4 percent.
  • Louisiana’s state retirement system, often criticized by the numbers-crunchers, while not on the best financial footing, was nevertheless, in “only” the 20th worst shape (putting the state not very far from the middle of the pack) with a funded ratio of 65.1 percent and a total pension shortfall of $18.2 billion (19th highest). That compares favorably with Kentucky’s funded ratio of only 33.9 percent and its $42.9 billion shortfall (the worst in the nation) and next-door neighbor Mississippi, which had a funded ratio of 61.6 percent but a total pension shortfall of $16.8 billion, two spots better than Louisiana’s.
  • Finally, a survey of the worst colleges in each state was done using U.S. Department of Education, Niche and College Factual (college ranking services) data based on graduation rates, costs of the university, salaries post-graduation, average student debt, and return on investment. Grambling State University near Ruston was deemed the worst in Louisiana. Grambling has a anemic graduation rate of only 10 percent and students leave with an average student debt of $27,656. With a median post-graduation salary of only $28,100, the default rate on student loans is 16.1 percent. By comparison, the worst college in Mississippi is Mississippi Valley State, which has a graduation rate three times that of Grambling at 29.8 percent and a loan default rate of 18.9 percent on average student loans of $32,252. In Arkansas, the worst is Philander Smith College in Little Rock which has a graduation rate of 39 percent but a default rate of 20.1 percent on average student debt of $26,616. The worst school in the nation is DeVry University. While it operates in nearly every state, its physical location is Illinois, so it was ranked as the worst in that state with a graduation rate of only 20.6 percent and average debt of $30,000 per student.
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Former British Prime Minister William Gladstone (1809-1898) is generally credited with coining the phrase, “Justice delayed is justice denied.”

Anyone who has had the misfortune of navigating our legal system in a civil lawsuit is keenly aware of the relevance of Gladstone’s insightful observation, especially if an individual should find himself pitted against the unlimited financial and manpower resources of, say, state government.

No one knows that better than three individuals who have seen their cases languish for as long as eight years with no resolution in sight. Murphy Painter, Corey DelaHoussaye and Billy Broussard have found the state attempting to ground them into submission through a flurry of legal motions.

The state has taken a page out of the playbooks of Allstate and State Farm in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina: Delay, deny, defend. Like those billion-dollar insurance companies, the state can afford to drag a case out indefinitely in the hopes of either demoralizing or bankrupting a plaintiff.

For those who insist that every person is entitled to his day in court, there is an equally compelling argument that justice can be bought. In criminal matters, the wealthy defendant who steals millions from his company or the politician who runs off a bridge, killing his female passenger, has a far better chance of avoiding a lengthy jail sentence—or any at all—than, say, some down on his luck individual who has the misfortune to getting caught with a joint. That’s because he can’t afford the legal representation and extracted courtroom fight as can those with greater resources.

LouisianaVoice will examine the legal pitfalls encountered by each of the three persons mentioned above in separate stories beginning today in an effort to show how the state drags out these cases as a tactic to wear down their finances and their will to keep fighting.

In the case of Murphy Painter, Bobby Jindal tried to set him up on bogus charges way back in August 2010 when he wouldn’t bend to the wishes of the late Tom Benson, a major contributor to Jindal’s political campaign, over a licensing issue. In our initial 2013 story about the prosecution, LouisianaVoice was the only media outlet to say publicly—and correctly—that Painter was being SET UP by Jindal.

Subsequent to that, we learned that the WARRANT executed on Painter’s ABC office was illegal in that the raid was carried out three days before the warrant was signed by Judge Bonnie Parker.

But that didn’t stop Jindal from pursuing criminal charges against Painter. He was indicted on 42 separate counts of computer fraud. But despite Jindal’s marshaling all the resources of state government against Painter, he was acquitted and the state had to pay his legal fees of $474,000—and that didn’t even take into account how much the state spent on his prosecution.

We will return to the state’s legal fees momentarily.

But first, let’s move to August 2011. That’s when Painter filed a lawsuit against the state, the Department of Revenue and Taxation, former Secretary of Revenue and Taxation Cynthia Bridges and Inspector General Stephen Street

It’s been eight years now and Painter’s lawsuit is no closer to a trial than it was in 2011.

Attorneys for the state have responded with stalling tactics that have taxed the patience of presiding judge who, out of exasperation, complained that Painter’s lawsuit had become so clouded by the state’s defensive maneuvers, motions, denials, and delays that the case had become impossible for any legal scholar to follow.

Just like the state planned it.

Justice delayed is justice denied.

Lost in all this is the issue of just how much of taxpayers’ money the state is willing to spend in order to break an adversary who was railroaded for political purposes in the first place.

After all, if his lawsuit had no merit, it would seem the state would be eager to go trial and get the matter settled once and for all. That alone would save untold thousands of dollars. But all too often, defense attorneys with political connections are given contracts to defend these lawsuits. It’s a lucrative arrangement: the attorneys contribute generously to political campaigns and they are rewarded with contracts to sit on a case for a few years—all while the meter is running, of course.

Efforts have been made to learned just how much the state has spent in defending Painter’s lawsuit but the state says that information is protected under the public information statute.

For that matter, we have even been unable to learn how much the state spent in legal fees in its criminal prosecution against Painter. We know his legal fees of near half-a-million dollars were awarded but the state had shielded from view the amount it spent in the criminal prosecution on the grounds the ongoing civil suit prohibit the release of that information.

In fact, there is a provision tucked away in the statute [R.S. 44:4 (15)] which exempts divulging current legal fees in litigation to anyone except the chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget and that committee litigation subcommittee.

So, basically, the taxpayers who ultimately foot the bill for defending otherwise indefensible litigation are kept in the dark by state statute from learning how their tax dollars are wasted on years of costly legal maneuvers designed to frustrate and short circuit a system supposedly designed to allow the average citizen to seek redress for wrongs committed against them.

The exemption shielding this information notwithstanding, the citizens of Louisiana should have a right to know when the state deliberately draws out litigation in which it is a defendant with definite exposure—all as a ploy to exhaust the plaintiff physically, mentally and financially. A key element in the equation is the right to know how much taxpayer money is being lavished on contract attorneys who happen to have the right political connections,

A New York Appellate Court judge wrote in a 1968 case, “Public opinion, which is the most effective check on official abuse, can never be aroused (if) any and all acts of such an official are protected either by a veil of secrecy or the critic is subjected to costly litigation.”

William Gladstone would probably agree.

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Over the years, I have taken Troy Hebert to task over his tenure as head of the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC). I even had to give a deposition in a lawsuit filed against Hebert by one of the agents he fired.

But I would be remiss if I did not now point out that we are in complete agreement on at least three issue: the failure of both political parties to represent Americans, lobbyists, and campaign finance.

On August 27, Hebert appeared along with Melissa Flournoy on the Jim Engster Show on Louisiana Public Radio. Both served in the Louisiana Legislature and Engster had them on together to present their viewpoints from the left (Flournoy) and the right (Hebert).

Flournoy correctly pointed out that gubernatorial candidates Eddie Rispone and U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham are placing far too much emphasis on their being in lockstep with Donald Trump, who has proven that anyone can indeed become president—even the mentally deranged.

“I’m a little surprised (they) have embraced the President so much. I’m ready for them to talk about their vision for Louisiana and the kind of leadership they can provide,” she said. “I don’t think liking the President is good enough reason to be governor. I’m ready for the governor’s race to pivot to the real issues in Louisiana—education, health care, infrastructure and making Louisiana better.

“People don’t want to talk about solutions. We stand on different sides of the street and shriek at each other when we really ought to be focusing on solutions where we can work together.”

Hebert, a staunch Trump supporter. As a former legislator and member of the Jindal administration, nailed it when he said, “Neither party is getting done what needs to be done in this country.”

Hebert would seem qualified to speak to that issue, having been a member of each party but who now calls himself a “conservative independent. I served on both (parties) and just couldn’t take either one of them.”

He then fired a broadside at the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI). “As somebody who was in the legislature for 16 years as both a senator and a representative, I think big business owns the legislature and owns many officials.

“The little man is either dead or on life support in the legislature,” he said. “Why don’t you just pull up the campaign finance reports and find out who gives to these candidates.” LABI, he said, is “so blatant that they hinge their support on … a report card they give every year. And you have to score a certain percentage in order to receive funding from LABI when you run for re-election.

“I can’t tell you how many times I approached legislators with a bill I thought was a good idea to help the little guy and they said, “… This is a really good bill but the problem is LABI is against it and if I vote for it, they’re going ding me on their report card and I’m not gonna get money.”

Flournoy agreed, saying that LABI and the Chemical Association control and big corporations “… control and influence every decision made in Louisiana. They’re looking out for their interest and not for the people of Louisiana.”

Hebert, while agreeing with Flournoy, took his argument a step further by attacking the emphasis on money politics and how it even affects the media.

“The media judges a candidate’s ability by how much month they have in the bank. If you look at every report when the news comes on, when they talk about this governor’s race, they don’t talk about their ideas or what their policies are. They talk about how much money they’ve raised.

“When I ran for the U.S. Senate (in 2016), they had a debate put on by LPB (Louisiana Public Broadcasting) and you had to have a million dollars in order to be on the debate stage. So, the media also is responsible and is guilty for bringing money into play.

“The regular working guy who would want to run for office, the media won’t even let them in.”

Turning to the 2020 presidential campaign, Hebert said Joe Biden is probably the only Democrat in a crowded field who could give Trump a decent run but because he’s more moderate. “But watch the Democrats cannibalize Joe Biden. He’s going to be eaten by his own. The people in charge of the Democratic Party will not allow Joe Biden to be the nominee.”

Flournoy, while agreeing that the Democratic Party is moving too far to the left, said she does not believe we have seen the candidate who will end up running against Trump. “There’re going to be some late entries,” she said.

If I were a TV news analyst, I would sum up that appearance by pointing out that Melissa Flournoy and Troy Hebert are in agreement on more issues than those on which they disagree and that the common culprit is the influence of LABI and its big business membership on the Louisiana Legislature to the detriment of the citizens of Louisiana.

But the really unique aspect of Hebert’s diatribe against the influence of big money and big business on politics is that as he spoke, I found myself nodding in full agreement with someone about whom I had written many negative stories.

 

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A couple of things caught my attention this past week, neither of which should be a sign of encouragement for Louisianans.

First, during Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, Louisiana 8th District Rep. Mike Johnson, a Shreveport Republican, had the unbelievable gall to tell Mueller that Donald Trump had “cooperated fully” with Mueller’s investigation.

That’s simply a damned lie and Johnson and all the other invertebrate Republican enablers in Congress are as well—and they know it.

How can threatening—and attempting—to fire Mueller be considered cooperation?

How can President Bone Spurs’ refusal to provide his income tax returns be considered cooperation?

How can President Bone Spurs’ refusal to appear in person before Mueller for questioning be considered cooperation?

How can President Bone Spurs’ incessant tweeting about the so-called “witch hunt” be considered cooperation?

How can President Bone Spurs’ constantly insulting Mueller be considered cooperation?

How can the repeated lapses of memory from President Bone Spurs (who, by the way, has repeatedly claimed he had one of the “best memories in history”) in his written responses to Mueller’s questions be considered cooperation?

Mike Johnson, there simply is no nice way to say it: You are a liar and an embarrassment.

Mike Johnson, you may wish to read what a friend sent me that was written by Paul Thornton of the Los Angeles Times (a conservative, Republican-leaning newspaper, by the way):

At almost any other time in American history, a decorated Marine with a highly distinguished legal and law enforcement career vouching for his 400-page report detailing a president’s impeachment-worthy conduct would be greeted with (at least) deference or (at best) bipartisan gratitude.

But Robert S. Mueller III had the misfortune of explaining his life’s most important investigation to a bunch of Republicans eager to engage in character assassination on behalf of the most amoral president in U.S. history, and in front of a media that valued “optics” just as much as the details of Mueller’s report.

The other attention-getter was the TV ad campaign launched by businessman Eddie Rispone in his bid to unseat John Bel Edwards for governor.

The best thing that be said about Rispone’s CURRENT AD is that he is just John Neely Kennedy 2.0—without the weed killer. Both are classic suck-ups running off someone else’s popularity with nothing of substance to offer. Some might call them political whores, but I would never be so crass. They’re just your typical political opportunists, folks, plain and simple.

Other than pointing out that he placed a Trump sticker on his truck, Rispone does nothing in the ad to address Louisiana’s problems or to offer solutions. Two words: sound bites.

Rispone even has a YOU TUBE AD (it may also have run on TV, but I haven’t seen it there yet) in which he proclaims, “It’s time to drain the swamp.”

Sound familiar?

Any questions as to how well President Bone Spurs has kept his promise to “drain the swamp”?

To give you an athletic analogy, in gymnastics, judges score contestants on, among other things, creativity and originality, degree of difficulty and execution.

Rispone’s pathetic ad falls flat on each of those categories. It’s nothing more than a dog whistle, to those poor souls who think President Bone Spurs actually has their best interests at heart and that he is really working on their behalf.

If Rispone is so devoted and loyal to President Bone Spurs, then that must necessarily mean that:

  • He condones adulterous behavior, even encourages it;
  • He is a racist;
  • He believes, like President Bone Spurs, that one does not need real solutions if he has enough money to purchase his office.
  • He supports a draft dodger who now hides behind the American flag;
  • He supports embracing shady characters like Jeffrey Epstein until they become a liability and then he “barely knows them”;
  • He believes the end justifies the means—regardless of who gets hurt in the process;
  • He believes that if President Bone Spurs can spout the rhetoric that resonates with his cult, then everything else he does should be ignored, even applauded.
  • He supports ridiculing physically-handicapped reporters;
  • He supports placing children in cages;
  • He supports tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans and corporations;
  • He supports Vladimir Putin, Kim Jung Un and Bashar al-Assad;
  • He would employ (but fail to pay) undocumented workers;
  • He would borrow (but fail to repay) hundreds of millions of dollars and would choose instead to stiff creditors by declaring bankruptcy—six times;
  • He supports increasing the national deficit by more than $1 trillion after promising to eliminate same;
  • He condones—encourages, even—serial lying;
  • He supports the idea of blaming others for everything bad and taking credit for all things good—like President Bone Spurs’ latest claim that the poor air conditioning in the White House is somehow the fault of his predecessor (really, he actually said that).

Rispone’s failure to publicly repudiate these suppositions should be considered affirmation.

Finally, there is THIS, and I think most of us can still remember the eight-year disaster that were the Jindal years.

So, if you liked Jindal, you’ll love Rispone.

If that doesn’t convince you that Rispone is about as phony as any political opportunist could possible be, then I have a mountaintop resort in Pierre Part to sell you.

 

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The news release by last September said that former Gov. Bobby Jindal had been appointed to the board of directors of by Wellcare Health Plans, Inc., of Tampa, Florida.

Yawn. Ho-hum. Has LouisianaVoice become so desperate for stories that it resurrects a nine-month-old news release?

Well, things have been a little slow of late. Even the recently-adjourned legislative session failed to generate any surprises other than the usual parties, dinners at Baton Rouge’s most expensive restaurants and hobnobbing with lobbyists to the general detriment of constituents, i.e. Louisiana citizens.

But it has long been my contention that when one peels back a few layers from the cover story, one will usually find the real story. After all, a July 2016 LouisianaVoice STORY turned up a link between Jindal and a lucrative state contract for another company that had appointed him to its board.

Accordingly, I went looking a little deeper and YOWSER! Sha-ZAM!

It seems that appointment of Jindal, described in the news release as one “who has dedicated his career to public service and advancing innovative healthcare polices,” appears to have been payback for services rendered while he was governor.

Documents obtained from the Louisiana Department of Health show that CENTENE, a major U.S. health insurer, is the parent company of Louisiana Healthcare Connections, Inc., which was awarded a contract for nearly $1 billion with the Louisiana Department of Hospitals in September 2011, just a month before Jindal’s reelection to a second term.

LHCC Contract 2012

The contract called for Louisiana Healthcare Connections to perform “a broad range of services necessary for the delivery of health care services to Medicaid enrollees…”

That contract was to run from February 1, 2012, through January 31, 2015.

On January 19, 2015, the contract was renewed for another three years, to run through January 31, 2018. The contract amount was increased from the original $926 million to $1.9 billion.

LHCC Contract 2015

But just before Jindal left office, on December 1, 2015, that contract was amended from $1.9 billion to $3.9 billion, perhaps in anticipation that incoming Gov. John Bel Edwards would keep his promise to expand Medicaid under Obamacare—which he did.

In March of this year, USA Today published a STORY that Centene (Louisiana Healthcare Connections parent company, remember) would purchase WellCare Health Plans, Inc. for $17.3 billion.

It would be most interesting to see if Jindal netted a windfall from that transaction, coming as it did only six months after he was named to WellCare Health Plans’ board.

It’s unknown just how long negotiations had been ongoing between Centene and WellCare Health Plans, but the timing does open the door for speculation that the doubling of the Louisiana Healthcare Connections contract, Jindal’s appointment to the WellCare Health Plan board and Centene’s purchase of WellCare are more than coincidental.

To add a little spice to the recipe of Louisiana political gumbo, they’re also a few interesting campaign contributions.

  • On March 11, 2011, just six months before Louisiana Healthcare was awarded that initial contract for $926 million, WellCare of Louisiana, a subsidiary of WellCare Health Plans, contributed $5,000 to Jindal’s reelection campaign.
  • On January 17, 2012, only two weeks before its initial contract took effect, Louisiana Healthcare Connections gave Jindal $5,000.
  • Louisiana Healthcare’s parent company, Centene, gave Jindal $5,000 on January 17, 2012 (the same date as Louisiana Healthcare’s contribution). Centene gave him another $5,000 on November 19, 2012 and still another $5,000 back on August 14, 2008, eight months after Jindal first moved into the governor’s office.
  • Oh, and the New Orleans law firm of McGlinchey Stafford, the registered agent for Louisiana Healthcare, gave Jindal $1,000 on September 23, 2003; $5,000 on October 30, 2003; $5,000 on April 6, 2007, and $5,000 on March 2, 2011.
  • On April 23, 2009, Centene’s then Chairman and CEO Michael Neidorff kicked in $3,000 to Jindal.

It would seem that Bobby Jindal is perfectly willing to skirt a few ethical standards in order to ensure that life after politics can continue to benefit from life while in politics.

So, you see, even the most mundane news release can carry a wealth of information if one is willing to follow a convoluted path to the ultimate source of the money.

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